Chile's environmental and mining ministries are on record supporting suspension of work on the Andes mine. Critics allege construction has spread dust that has settled on the nearby Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers, hastening their retreat, and is threatening the Estrecho river, which supplies water to the Diaguita tribe living downstream.
Barrick said it will work "to address environmental and other regulatory requirements" on the Pascua side of the project. But it insisted construction will continue on the mine's Lama portion in Argentina, where mining is regulated by provincial governments rather than national officials.
The company said it's following all applicable Argentine laws, but environmentalists say Pascua-Lama and Barrick's nearby Veladero mine, which produced 611,000 ounces of gold last year, clearly violate the nation's 2010 law forbidding any mining on or near glaciers.
While Barrick has blocked enforcement of the law so far, Argentina's Supreme Court has ordered a nationwide inventory of water supplied from glaciers as well as peri-glacial areas â¿¿ the rocky underbeds that hold water after glaciers retreat."In light of the Chile court ruling, completing this inventory is fundamental," said Miguel Bonasso, who helped pass the 2010 law and whose book "El Mal" ("The Evil") accuses Barrick of many environmental violations. "If it's proven that Barrick Gold's activities affect glaciers and peri-glacial areas, Barrick will have to leave Argentine territory. It's that simple," Bonasso said. Barrick said it is "too early to assess the impact, if any, on the overall capital budget and schedule" of Pascua-Lama. The site has 17.9 million ounces of proven gold reserves and would be one of the world's biggest and lowest-cost mines if allowed to open. Even before the court ruling, the project was off track. Its start date had been delayed by more than six months to the second half of 2014, and the estimated start cost had jumped from an original $3 billion to more than $8 billion last year.